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    February 19, 2023 Lynchburg, Va. RSS |

    Star Wars night turned out to be an epic special teams battle between ACHA Division I powers Liberty University and Ohio University, in front of a sellout crowd at the LaHaye Ice Center on Saturday. In the end, the No. 4-ranked Bobcats emerged with a 4-2 victory over the No. 6 Flames, dressed as Stormtroopers.

    “Obviously, great atmosphere tonight, but we came out flat,” Liberty Head Coach Kirk Handy said. “The tale was we go 1-for-4 on the power play and they go 2-for-4 and they win the special teams battle. We had a five-minute power play that we don’t capitalize on. We have to be better on special teams.”

    By salvaging a series split, Ohio (26-5-2) surged back in front of the Flames  (15-11-1)in the all-time series between the rival forces, 19-18.

    Liberty Campus Pastor Jonathan Falwell met with the Flames and Head Coach Kirk Handy (right) in the locker room before Saturday night’s showdown with Ohio.

    “We have to play two back-to-back games,” Handy said. “We play well one night and the next night we don’t play well, so we’ve got to figure that out. We had way more jump last night and we looked way more dangerous and we just didn’t have that tonight. That’s not the way we want to play. We have to be better. I don’t think we were prepared the way we needed to be and that’s on all of us to make sure we change that moving forward.”

    The Bobcats struck first on a goal by Phil Angervil just 2:12 after the opening faceoff, finishing feeds from Christian Albertson and Lucas Renzoni for an early 1-0 advantage. But the Flames responded to tie the contest less than a minute later when sophomore forward Aleksandr Charin dug the puck out from along the boards near the red line right to freshman defenseman Reid Bogenholm. The spring semester newcomer skated onto the pass across the blue line and through the right circle before being tripped as he cut into the crease, but still managed to lift a wrist shot past Ohio goalie Justin Damon inside the left post as he slid across the slot for his first goal in a Flames jersey.

    However, Bogenholm was later called for cross checking and the Bobcats capitalized with the game’s first power-play goal by forward Hollander Thompson off assists from linemates Laker Aldridge and Ryan Higgins to seize a 2-1 lead at the 9:11 mark.

    After Ohio killed off a five-minute major assessed to forward Andrew Wells for a hit to the head of Flames junior forward Kris Bladen in the right crease, the teams traded power-play goals in the final 3:33 of the second period.

    Reid Bogenholm slides across the ice after being tripped up on his game-tying goal in the first period.

    Aldridge, who netted both of the Bobcats’ goals in Friday night’s 3-2 overtime setback, launched a laser of a wrist shot from the top of the right circle that zipped past fresman goalie Jackson Glassford top shelf to stretch their lead to 3-1. Liberty answered just over a minute later on a power play of its own when DJ Schwenke deflected fellow junior forward Jacob Kalandyk’s shot from along the left boards past Damon to pull the Flames back within 3-2.

    Liberty ended the second period and started the third playing two men down, but kept the Bobcats from converting on the 5-on-3 with exceptional penalty kill play and a couple stellar saves by Glassford.

    “That was huge,” Handy said.

    Kalandyk nearly put away a putback in the left crease moments later and junior forward Jason Foltz was narrowly stopped on a wraparound at the right post with 13:30 remaining in regulation. Ohio proved opportunistic again, however, capitalizing on a Liberty turnover in the defensive end to add an insurance goal when Higgins threaded a pass through the right circle to JT Schimizzi who beat Glassford with a short shot through the five hole, padding the Bobcats’ lead to 4-2.

    Liberty outshot Ohio by a 50-37 margin, and Glassford made 33 saves, 15 fewer than Damon.

    Freshman defenseman Colten Kovich clears the puck.

    “Right now, the frustration the boys are feeling is we can’t seem to score 5-on-5,” Flames junior forward Kam Ottenbreit said. “There’s a lot of opportunities, but we’re not capitalizing. It stems from practice. We’ve got to bear down in practice and start bearing on these 5-on-5 opportunities to start translating in the game. We started a little slower tonight, and outshot them by a lot in the second period, but I don’t think we’re getting enough traffic if a goalie is stopping that many shots in a row and we’re not scoring 5-on-5. We need more bodies in front of the net to where he can’t see.”

    After Handy shuffled a couple of the Flames’ offensive lines for the Ohio series, the connections were not firing on all cylinders as they had on Friday night.

    “The new line combinations were good, we just need to build a little more chemistry, a little more consistency,” Ottenbreit said. “This upcoming week is going to be big for us to all kind of look in the mirror and see what we need to do and no matter who the coaches put us with, we just have to play our roles and trust that the coaches understand what they’re doing and put us with guys for a reason. So if we look in the mirror and play our roles to the best of our abilities, then it’s on us if we don’t execute.”

    Flames forward Jason Foltz drives into the heart of the Ohio defense as Kris Bladen (right) posts up beside the Bobcats’ cage.

    Ottenbreit said facing top-ranked Minot State in next weekend’s final regular-season showdown — with the puck dropping at 10 p.m. Friday and 7 p.m. Saturday at the LIC — will be a pivotal series to build momentum going into the March 16-21 National Championships in Marlboro, Mass.

    “It’s huge for us that we’re facing the No. 1 team and kind of end the season on a high note,” he said. “It’s kind of the best opportunity that you could ask for going into nationals, coming out hot and having high intensity right away instead of playing a team that you’re going to beat by a lot of goals. It’s going to be a gritty game and that’s how nationals is going to be, so these last two weekends are big for our preparation.

    “It will be a great opportunity for us next weekend and we’re looking forward to it,” Handy added. “We’ll have a good week of practice and be ready to go for next weekend.”

     By Ted Allen/Staff Writer; Video by Patrick Strawn/Club Sports Director of Video & Media

    The Flames and Bobcats gather at center ice to pray in a post-game huddle.